The Week in Review: In Light of Saturday's Tote Failure, the Industry Must Search for Answers

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It's still not clear exactly what went wrong Saturday when a tote failure impacted several tracks, including Tampa Bay Downs. The Oldsmar, Florida track took a huge hit when it was forced to run the GIII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby as a non-wagering event and to also cancel the last race of the day. Tampa Bay Downs Vice President and General Manager Pete Berube estimates that the track lost as much as $4.5 million in handle because betting wasn't available.

There was a massive telecommunications network failure Saturday afternoon that affected much more than just the horse racing industry. Regardless of where wagers are placed, the transmission from the Amtote totalizator system to the host track's pools are redistributed via Roberts Communications Network. There was a telecommunications failure of several network carriers in the mid-Atlantic region, therefore Amtote and Roberts had no connectivity with the racetracks and therefore it was technically impossible to transmit bets. That it happened prior to Tampa Bay Downs' biggest race of the year and not the third race on a Tuesday was nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.

Other tracks, among them Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Laurel, Aqueduct, Fonner Park and the Meadowlands experienced similar problems, but none of them were forced to run races as non-betting events.

On Sunday, Amtote and Roberts issued a joint statement, which read in part:

“The issues were not the result of a tote system failure. Rather, the communications network (both primary and backup) that connects the Amtote Mid-Atlantic hub to other wagering hubs failed. Roberts Communications Network (“RCN”) provides the communications network that connects Amtote's Mid-Atlantic hub to all other tote company wagering hubs worldwide. RCN designs and installs the communications network in a manner designed to prevent outages of this type. However, the unprecedented nature of the connectivity outage yesterday, which impacted the third-party providers from which RCN provisions bandwidth, took down both the primary and back-up networks.”

“Everyone needs to stop blaming Amtote,” said Todd Roberts, President and CEO of RCN. “This was an unprecedented failure in the primary and back-up connectivity provided to RCN by our third-party suppliers.

“When the communications links at Amtote's hub were disrupted, it caused a breakdown in the flow of wagering data between Amtote's Mid-Atlantic hub and all other wagering locations. The communications disruption was not caused by any failure in RCN equipment or operations. Rather, both the primary and back-up bandwidth providers to the RCN network failed. RCN has not yet received an official reason-for-outage report from its third-party providers specifying a reason for this failure. However, it is believed that the outage, which was much broader than just the racing industry, affected at least three major telecom/internet bandwidth providers in the geographic region that services the Amtote hub.”

The loss of the estimated $4.5 million in betting handle was a huge blow to Tampa Bay Downs, a racetrack that does not receive any revenue from casinos or slot machines and, therefore, can't afford a hit like it took Saturday. Berube says he wants some answers and has called for an investigation.

“Only bits and pieces are coming in and that's why I have asked for an independent investigation,” he said. “You have a couple different vendors involved, the tote company and RCN communications. I'm not getting a clear story as to what happened at this point and that's why I've asked for an independent investigation. This is unprecedented. I've been in this business for over 30 years and I've never experienced or seen anything like what happened yesterday.”

So who's to blame? That's the tricky part. Neither AmTote, which is owned by 1/ST Racing, nor Roberts nor Tampa Bay Downs apparently did anything wrong. This issue was caused by a utility company that provides network connectivity that carries the transmission of betting data. When that went down betting data could not be transmitted.

And Tampa did what it had to do.

“We waited as long as we could,” Berube said. “It wasn't fair to the horses, so we made the decision to go ahead and run the Tampa Bay Derby, even though it was not a profitable decision. But we needed to run the race and we were glad to run the race.”

Yet both Berube and 1/ST President Aidan Butler, expressed similar sentiments, that no matter how complicated this issue might have been and no matter who was at fault, these sort of things can't keep happening. Remember, it was only a few months ago that FanDuel experienced a situation where bettors were able to make huge wagers on a race and only the base price of their tickets was deducted from their accounts. There still hasn't be a credible explanation as to how that occurred.

“There needs to be a change and this should be a wake-up call for the industry,” Berube said. “I plan on being totally transparent once I get the information and the sequence of events, what happened and who was responsible. The customers need to have confidence in the system.”

“This truly was not an AmTote issue,” Butler said. “But that doesn't really matter. I am looking at it through a gambling lens, and it is really unacceptable. Going forward, it doesn't matter whose fault it was. It's the year 2024 and there's no reason something like this can go on. This can never happen again and can't happen again and that will take a lot of work.”

He's right. As with so many aspects of the game, racing can't afford these stumbles. They alienate the customers and make the sport look amateurish. It must do better.

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